Nalayani: the Past Life of Draupadi
[Translated from the original Sanskrit]
[The Kumbhakonam Edition of the Mahabharata gives us several details that are not available in the KM Ganguli translation of the epic or in the Gita Press edition. The following is one such instance. I believe there is no other English translation of this available at the moment. The passage below constitutes Chapter 212 and 213 of the Adi Parva of the epic in the Kumbhakonam Edition, 1906. In the narrative sequence, these chapters come after Arjuna has won Draupadi, and immediately before all the five Pandava brothers wed her.]
Vyasa Said: Oh king, do not grieve over your daughter becoming wife to all five Pandavas. Her mother had earlier prayed that Draupadi should become the wife of five men. Yaja and Upayaja, constantly engaged in dharma, made it possible through their tapas that she should have five husbands and that is how Draupadi was attained by the five Pandavas as their wife.
It is now time for your whole family to celebrate. For in the whole world there is no one superior to you and you are now invincible – no one in the whole world has the power to defeat you. Let me explain further how she attained five husbands. Listen to me, your heart free from sorrow.
In another lifetime, your daughter was called Nalayani, a woman of impeccable virtue. She served her husband Maudgalya, an old leper, with great devotion. The man was mere bones and skin, bitter by nature, lustful, jealous and prone to quick rages. He stank terribly – his body emitted every foul smell. Advanced in age, his skin was wrinkled, his whole body crooked. His head had grown bald and his skin and nails had begun to wear off. Nalayani served her husband who practiced severe penances; she lived by eating his left over food.
Then one day, while he was eating, his thumb fell off into the food. Without the least hesitation, Nalayani removed it from the food and ate the leftover food. The man, who had the power to do as he wished, was pleased with this. He asked her to ask for a boon.
“I am not old or evil-tempered, nor jealous or hot tempered,” he told her. “My body does not smell, nor am I short in height or lust-filled. My blessings on you, beloved. Now tell me how I can delight you and where you wish to live and enjoy. I shall do all that you wish, tell me whatever is in your mind.”
When he repeatedly asked her to ask for a boon, she asked for one.
Maudgalya was a man of pure actions and he was now pleased with her. He had the power to give boons and he gave all one wished. So Nalayani of blameless beauty told her husband: “O lord, unthinkable are your powers. May you attain great fame in the world by dividing yourself into five and pleasuring me in all those five forms! And after that I want you to become one again and continue to pleasure me.”
“Let it be so!” the great seer Maudgalya of surpassing spiritual power told Nalayani of beautiful hair and alluring smile. He then turned himself into five and pleasured her in those five forms in every imaginable way.
He then spent time in the ashrams of sages worshipped by them, moving from one ashram to the other, assuming any form he desired. He went to the world of the gods and there moved among the celestial sages taking her with him. He lived as a guest in the palace of Indra, worshipped by Shachi, his food the ambrosia of the gods.
Desiring to enjoy pleasures with Nalayani, also known as Mahendrasena, he, the great lord, boarded the divine chariot of the sun god and moved around with her. He then went to Mt Meru and started living on the mountain. He dived into the celestial Ganga with her. He lived in the rays of the moon as the never-ceasing wind does.
When the great sage took on the shape of a mountain range, because of his ascetic power she became a great river in the middle of the mountains. When the sage transformed himself into a sal tree full of flowers, she attained the form of a creeper and wound herself around him. Every time he assumed a body, she traveled with her husband assuming a similar body. And so living, her love for him and his love for her increased in equal measure. The great sage continuously reveled with her using his yogic powers and she, as Divine Will would have it, gave him pleasures in turn.
All this time, she remained the sage’s single wife, like Arundhati to Vasishtha and Sita to Rama, and like them entirely devoted to her husband. In this respect, she became nobler than Damayanti’s mother. Her mind became totally engrossed in the great brahmana Maudgalya, as though her soul itself had merged with him, and it never wavered from him.
This, oh great king, is the truth and for that reason, never think of it in other ways. It is this Nalayani who is born as your daughter Krishnaa from the sacrificial pit, as some divine plan would have it.
Drupada said: Great brahmana, best knower of all scriptures, tell me the reason why the auspicious Nalayani took birth in my sacrifice.
Vyasa said: Listen to me, King, of how Lord Rudra gave her a boon and why the glorious one was born in your house. Let me tell you more of Krishnaa’s former life story.
Famous by the name Indrasena, the noble Nalayani travelled around with her husband Maudgalya, no worries in her mind. For Maudgalya, those years of reveling with her passed like moments. And then one day, after years of enjoying them, the sage lost interest in pleasures. Desiring the highest dharma, his mind was now turned towards brahma-yoga. The great sage, now keen on austerities, abandoned her.
Abandoned by him, oh great king, Nalayani fell to the earth. As she fell, addressing Maudgalya, she said: “Do not abandon me, great sage. I have been enjoying pleasures as my heart desired, and I am still not satisfied with the enjoyment.”
And Maudgalya told her: “You speak to me without any compunction about things that should not be spoken of. And you are causing obstacles on my path of tapas. So listen to what I say. You shall be born on the earth as a princess and will attain great repute. You shall be the daughter of the noble-hearted king of Panchala. You shall then have five renowned men for your husbands. With those handsome men, you shall long enjoy the pleasures of sex.
Vaishampayana said: Cursed thus, the glorious Nalayani became miserable and went to a forest. Still discontented with the enjoyment of pleasures, she worshipped the Lord of the Gods through tapas. She gave up hopes and expectations, fasted with only the air as her food, and following the diurnal course of the sun, began practicing the tapas of the five fires – with the burning sun above her and four burning fires surrounding her. Rudra, the Lord of Beasts, the Great Monarch of all the worlds, the Great God, was pleased with her severe penance and gave her a boon. “You will be reborn again and in that birth you shall be a lustrous woman; and you shall have five renowned men for your husbands. They will all have bodies like that of Indra and in valour too they shall be like Indra. And there you shall achieve for the gods their great work.”
Hearing this, the woman said: “I requested you for one husband. Why have you given me these five husbands? A woman shall have one man. How can a woman belong to many men?”
And the Great Lord said: “You told me five times, repeatedly, to give you a husband. Noble woman, you shall have five husbands and you shall find happiness with all of them.”
The woman replied: “It has been decided long ago that it is the dharma of a woman to have only one husband, whereas it is the dharma of a man, as practiced by many, to have several wives. This is the dharma for women that the sages decided in the past. And it has also been said that a single woman would be the partner of man in religious rituals. And we also see in the world that a woman has a single husband, just as she has a single virginhood – once ended, it never comes back. The smritis allow a second husband to a woman for the purpose of conceiving through niyoga in an exigency. If she goes to a third woman, that is considered a sin and when she has a fourth man, she falls and becomes a prostitute. This is the path of dharma and for that reason I cannot accept many husbands. That is something not seen practiced in the world and how could I be absolved from the sin of corruption if that happens?”
The Great Lord said: “In the past women lived a free life sexually and were considered pure after their monthly periods. It was not just once that you asked me [for a husband]. But having many husbands shall not be against dharma for you.”
The woman replied: “If I am to have many husbands, and if I desire sex [rati] with them all, I request you to grant me that I shall remain a virgin after my unions with each of my husbands. In the past I attained spiritual merit [siddhi] through service to my husband. I also attained desire for sexual pleasures through that service. Grant me that I attain both in my coming birth too.”
The Great Lord said: “Listen to me, auspicious woman. Rati [sexual pleasure/the goddess of sexual pleasure] and Siddhi [spiritual progress/the goddess of spiritual progress] do not enjoy each other’s company. In your next birth too, endowed with great beauty and good fortune, enjoying with your five husbands after regaining your virginity repeatedly, you shall attain great glory. Go now and you will see a man standing in the waters of the Ganga. Woman of beautiful smile, bring him, the lord of the gods, to me.”
When the Great Lord, Rudra, the lord that has become everything, spoke thus, she went round him in reverence and walked towards the Ganga, the river of great merit that flows in the three worlds.
Translation by Satya Chaitanya